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W Magazine's A-List issue highlights "The Power Geeks" (aka: Apatow's speed dial)

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With Judd Apatow comedies raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and traditional leading-man vehicles floundering, a pretty face no longer automatically equals a big opening weekend. Suddenly the nerdy boys next door are wielding a whole lot of clout.
By Danielle Stein


Bill Hader

“People ask me, ‘Did you always want to be on SNL?’” says Bill Hader, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native who moved to Los Angeles in hopes of working in film but ended up joining an improv group. “No, actually, it never crossed my mind. It didn’t even seem possible. It would’ve been like saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go to the moon?’”

Nevertheless, the 29-year-old actor-writer, who does a mean Al Pacino and can pull off the same goofy, manic-eyed expression as Jim Carrey—without possessing the actual mania—now reports to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. During Saturday Night Live’s off-seasons, he’s been building quite a film career: His role alongside Seth Rogen as a bumbling cop in last summer’s Superbad sealed his place in the Judd Apatow broad-comedy firmament, and next up he stars in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Two more Apatow productions are also in the works: Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Adventureland, in which he and SNL castmate Kristin Wiig play a married couple who own an amusement park. “I love the ensemble thing,” says Hader, “especially shooting those Judd films where you’re just yelling stuff out, where we’re doing a scene and suddenly Jonah Hill yells from offstage, ‘Why doesn’t he say this?’ and we’ll all start cracking up.”

It’s almost as if the one-liners delivered on set are as much for the benefit of those making them as they are for those who will hear them later. Private jokes abound, and sometimes it’s just coincidence that an improvised scene ends up being funny to a larger audience. “There was one take in Superbad when I’m sitting in the bar and I start going off on my wife just for the hell of it—it totally didn’t advance the plot or anything,” says Hader, whose real-life wife is filmmaker Maggie Carey. “When I saw the final cut, I said to [director] Greg Mottola, ‘You left all that in?’ There was so much stuff I thought would be cut, but then there it was, in the actual movie!”

Jonah Hill

“I just sat through The Music Man,” says a bemused and slightly traumatized Jonah Hill, who arrives to an interview straight from his 14-year-old sister’s high school musical. “Halfway through I thought to myself, I should make a musical-comedy movie called Where’s That Music Coming From?

It’s this sort of casual, off-the-cuff humor that has turned the 24-year-old Hill from a guy who had one scene in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin into a star of the heavily improvised comedies Knocked Up and Superbad. But his knack for coming up with dialogue wasn’t always appreciated. For nearly two years after his film debut in I ❤ Huckabees, he couldn’t find an acting job, and pilot-season auditions were particularly brutal. “I’d spend hours rewriting the scripts, making them funnier,” he recalls. “Nobody ever tells you that big, successful sitcom writers don’t like 19-year-olds coming in and rewriting all their lines. Turns out they get legitimately pissed off.” Hill, on the other hand, plans to hang on to the relaxed attitude that defines his group of friends and collaborators—Apatow, Seth Rogen and writer Evan Goldberg, to name a few—when shooting The Middle Child and Pure Imagination, the two films he’s now writing for Apatow’s production company. “In my head, it’s like, if someone has a funnier joke, then that’s what should go on film,” he says emphatically. “I’m not gonna say, ‘Oh, Seth can’t improv because I’m the writer!’ His being funny just makes me look better.”

Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Christopher Mintz-Plasse made his first-ever late-night talk-show appearance two weeks before Superbad’s theatrical release last summer. His plans for the future, he told host Jimmy Kimmel, included making up a failed high school Spanish class at community college. “Yeah, that’s not happening anymore,” admits the pale and lanky 18-year-old, who has leveraged his role as the ID-faking, cop-befriending McLovin into a packed filming schedule, including work on Little Big Men with Paul Rudd and the Harold Ramis–directed Year One.

Mintz-Plasse, who spent two full weeks growing the puny handful of hairs now sprouting from his chin, had little more than a drama class on his résumé when he auditioned for Superbad. So he isn’t yet weary of hearing shouts of “McLovin” everywhere he goes. It’s a character that will go down alongside Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Jeff Spicoli in the high school movie hall of fame. “I recently went to Chipotle for a burrito, and there were, like, 40 teenagers there staring at me,” he says. “But this one girl kept saying to them all, ‘He’s not McLovin; he just looks like him.’ It was really annoying, and finally I just shouted at them, ‘I. Am. McLovin!’”

Aside from ambushes by fans, the L.A. native maintains a typical teenage life. He lives with his parents, tools around in his new Honda Civic and deals with girl problems (though he admits his prospects have increased since his film debut). He recently did an ad for Declare Yourself, a Web initiative to get young people to vote. “I’m a Democrat,” he says with confidence, before adding, “I’ll probably vote for who my parents say—I don’t know too much about politics yet.”

Michael Cera

"You have some amazing cameras,” Michael Cera says, wide-eyed, to the photographer who’s meant to be snapping him. Soon, the sweetly awkward 19-year-old is handling the cameras himself, taking shots of the photographer, as his handlers check their watches. They don’t dare interrupt him, though—but not because he’s the kind of cocky star who doesn’t like being told what to do. It’s just that Cera’s demeanor is so breathtakingly gentle, his enthusiasm for the cameras so genuine, that it would be nothing less than churlish to issue even the mildest reprimand.

In fact, Cera, star of the 2007 films Superbad and Juno and the much mourned sitcom Arrested Development, hardly seems to realize he’s growing more famous by the day. When he does acknowledge his success—or the surprising attention from the legions of female fans it has brought on—it’s with marked apprehension. “I was in a kids show when I was 10 called I Was a Sixth Grade Alien,” Cera recalls, “and when I got to junior high, I remember feeling really self-conscious about people knowing me from TV. It definitely didn’t instill any confidence.”

Despite his shyness, Cera, who will appear this fall in the film adaptation of the young-adult novel Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, can dole out some of the best deadpan in the biz, and his scenes—even those brimming with crude jokes—possess a certain poignance. “If I could buy stock in a human being, it’d be Michael,” says Superbad costar Bill Hader. Cera, who still lives with his parents in a suburb outside of Toronto, isn’t quite as confident. “I’m thinking of getting a place in L.A. next year,” he says, “but it’s so expensive! You have to plan on having constant work, which is terrifying.”

David Krumholtz

David Krumholtz misses his peacoat. “No one wears black here,” he laments. “I’m so over L.A.” One suspects it’s not just West Coast fashion that’s got the Queens native down but also the monotony that comes from spending the past two years filming his TV drama, CBS’s Numb3rs, which has turned the curly-haired Krumholtz, 29, who plays a math professor who helps crack criminal cases, into an unlikely sex symbol among brainy schoolgirls across America. “It’s boring.… I get disenchanted,” he admits. It’s a great role, sure, but a glance at Krumholtz’s résumé reveals an actor compelled to try new things: He’s been the funny guy (Walk Hard, Superbad, Harold and Kumar), the nebbishy Jew (Slums of Beverly Hills, Sidewalks of New York, Liberty Heights), the character actor in Oscar contenders (Ray and Bobby) and even a mental-hospital escapee (My Suicidal Sweetheart). His childhood roles—a dorky cereal commercial star in Life With Mikey and Wednesday’s wussy boyfriend in Addams Family Values—could easily have given way to a lifetime of playing the consummate geek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He recounts meeting a teenage girl at a math convention in St. Louis. “She said, ‘You make it okay to be awkward and weird and nerdy,’” he says. “That’s awesome.”

Krumholtz’s versatility goes beyond his onscreen work—he just finished writing a script for Judd Apatow called Attorneys at Raw about two white lawyers who decide to become rappers. “My friends and I have been rapping on the side for years,” he says. “I wrote it for me and Seth [Rogen]; he’s actually amazing at freestyling.”

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